How Messy People Can Learn to Be Clean

Growing up, my room was always messy. When I was five, it was age appropriate and my mom patiently helped me put my toys away. By the time I was a teenager, however, that patience was long gone. My mildly germaphobic and highly exasperated mom had nothing left to offer but sensible advice: “Just don’t let it get messy in the first place,” and “Don’t you enjoy having a clean room?” And finally came the declaration: “I just don’t understand how you can live like that.”

Off to college I went, where my messiness always seemed to creep back in, despite my vows that moving out would be a fresh start. I lived a never ending cycle of time consuming “deep cleaning”, then accumulating mess all over again. I thought I was doomed to be disorganized for the rest of my life. 

Finally, after a year of living away from home, it clicked. My apartment stays clean and I feel proud of my home and myself for tackling what was once my greatest weakness. Becoming clean requires you to change just 3 things.

Change your Mindset

First, acknowledge that being “clean” or “messy” is not fate, but rather a product of habits. If you tend to be messy, you have developed lazy habits. This doesn’t mean you are a lazy person in all aspects of life, but you have developed lazy habits simply because you do not prioritize cleanliness. Unfortunately, laziness is addictive. The less you do, the less you want to do. 

The mess grows. This causes stress, and stress is an addictive hormone. What clean people often don’t understand about messy people is that they don’t actively choose to be messy, but they are caught in a cyclical addiction to their own laziness and stress, making cleaning more daunting than it really is.

Here is the good news: clean habits are addictive too! No matter how you have been living your life so far, your brain secretly likes when you keep your space clean. Clean spaces decrease stress and increase productivity and happiness. With this in mind, begin thinking of clean habits as little acts of respect towards yourself.

Change your Habits

If cleanliness and messiness are habits, then changing those habits allows a messy person to learn to be clean. Cleaning a little each day is the best way to prevent mess buildup and begin viewing cleaning as a part of your routine, rather than a huge pain. Start by finding what time of day you are most motivated to clean. This may be morning, night, or under certain circumstances.

I have developed the habit of cleaning for 10 minutes each morning after I take pre-workout and before I go to the gym. This time is usually for laundry, putting misplaced things back where they belong, or random cleaning (vacuum, taking out trash, etc.). My motivation increase as the caffeine kicks in, and the prospect of cleaning for just 10 minutes before heading to the gym makes me more productive.

I have also developed the habit of cleaning for 10 minutes each night. This is my first step in my bedtime routine, followed by showering and reading. These 10 minutes are reserved for putting away any food that might be out, doing dishes, and cleaning counters. This time is motivating for me because, with the help of a little music, I begin to let go of some of my daytime stressors and am incentivized by showering, reading, and getting a good night’s rest.

These habits are very specific to my lifestyle and the things that motivate me. Everyone is motivated by different things, so work hard to find the habits that will best support you.

Change your Strategy

Breaking “cleaning” down into smaller tasks makes it seem much less intimidating. On the other hand, it can be overwhelming when there are so many tasks to keep track of: folding laundry, scrubbing the tub, wiping the counters, and many more. Some people may be just fine doing these tasks as they notice they need to be done, but tracking them may be beneficial to others.

You can organize tasks with a schedule, (“Mondays I do laundry, Tuesdays I water the plants, etc.”), but I recommend writing it down by hand or electronically to refer back to. My daily and weekly responsibilities vary greatly, so I prefer an option with more flexibility.

You can also use a To-Do list or chore calendar. I tried this for a while, writing the chores on the dates I wanted to do them on a dry erase calendar. I found that this method to be overwhelming, as I would see the entire white board’s tasks, but this may work well for people who like to plan further ahead.

Finally, there are many apps you can use to track chores. I have been using the free app TickTick and found it to be the best option for me.

TickTick App

Respect Your Space

Respecting the space you live in is a way of respecting yourself. This is where you spend the majority of your time, and keeping it clean makes you more relaxed, productive, and happy. Finally, when you change your messy habits to clean ones, you might just find greater love and gratitude for the place you call home. I know I did!

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